LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain’s advertising watchdog said on Wednesday it had banned a police advertisement encouraging people to report neighbors whose activities raised “suspicions,” saying it could offend innocent citizens.
The radio advert for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline listed as suspicious behavior activities which could also describe law-abiding people, the Advertising Standards Authority said.
“The man at the end of the street doesn’t talk to his neighbors much, because he likes to keep himself to himself,” said the advert which was broadcast on the Talksport radio station.
“He pays with cash because he doesn’t have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing but together could all add up to you having suspicions.”
A total of 18 listeners complained, arguing the advert for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) could encourage people to report innocent citizens, or harass or victimize their neighbors.
London’s Metropolitan Police, responding on ACPO’s behalf, said the behaviors the advert described were based on trends police had identified, and said what sometimes appeared to be insignificant actions could potentially be linked to terrorism.
Talksport also said the script avoided stereotyping and made no appeals to prejudice.
However, the ASA said the description could match that of a number of law-abiding people and could cause serious offence.
“We considered that some listeners, who might identify with the behaviors referred to in the ad, could find the implication that their behavior was suspicious, offensive,” ASA said in its ruling.
“We are also considered that some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of the community for acting in the way described.”
The watchdog accepted the advert had a measured and reasonable tone, and so rejected complaints that it could lead to harassment or provoke undue fear.
ACPO separately said the advert had only been designed for a month-long campaign to be run on Talksport.
“The Association of Chief Police Officers acknowledges the decision of the Advertising Standards Authority and apologizes to the small number of people who were offended by the advert,” a spokeswoman said.
“This advertisement, which was one in a series, will not be used again.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Tim Castle